Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Out and About in Leon

Leon has so many attractions that we’re spending two nights here. So just a five-mile stroll this morning, to take the edge off what would otherwise be a longish day tomorrow. Walking through the western suburbs of Leon to La Virgen del Camino, the mueblo (furniture) capital of Leon if not all of Spain, didn’t offer many photo opportunities, particularly on an overcast and misty morning.
The best I could manage was another river-valley-in-the-mist picture, this time from the 16th-Century Puente de rio Bernesga footbridge leaving downtown Leon. I promise, no more river pictures.
From there the Camino bobbed and weaved its yellow-arrowed way along the N-120 highway, with occasional obscurely signaled turns to keep otherwise bored peregrinos alert. Aside from more opportunities to buy overstuffed sectional sofas than anyone could reasonably require, La Virgen del Camino’s leading (well, sole) attraction is the Sanctuary of the Virgin, “the most modern church of artistic significance on the Road.” Fronted by bronze doors and sculptures of the apostles installed in 1961, the Sanctuary seems lonely amidst all the furniture stores. St. James is presented with a body composed essentially of scallop shells, which arguably overdoes the Camino thing (in the picture, the figure to the right of James is John, with Mary Ascending on the far right).
Back in Leon before noon, I canvassed the town for my latest fixation: an antique map of Northern Spain to remind me of this enterprise. Not on. Leon, when all is done, is not the cultural capital it aspires to be. Once past the Cathedral and San Isidor (and a few stray buildings such as an early Gaudi building lamentably taken over as the regional headquarters of Caja Espana), the tourist area is tacky and the modern downtown is medium-size-city-Spain. Nothing wrong with that, but not a place for quality antique print and map stores. The resident calligrapher at the closest miss I found, a medieval manuscript store near San Isidor, told me he had seen such maps “during my studies,” but they were in libraries and he didn’t think I’d find any for sale in Leon.Late in the afternoon, after the promised rain arrived – it’s supposed to be truly vile tomorrow – I took a tour of the Cathedral and St. Isidor. They wouldn’t let me take pictures of my favorite thing in Leon, the 11th Century frescoes in the Pantheon Real attached to St. Isidor, still astonishingly brilliant after 800 years and despite Napoleon’s use of the room for a stable. A wonderful window to the medieval mind, so like ours in some ways and so distant in others.
So I had to settle for a shot of the Cathedral Cloister with rain glistening on the marble floor.